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Insights What is the difference between Above The Line and Below The Line marketing?

Emily Stewart-Wooler
Emily Stewart-Wooler
Marketing Specialist

01 Aug 2023

3 minute read

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Above the line or below the line? Now that is a good question. 

Both of these terms are by no means new players in marketing and advertising. Oh no, they’ve been knocking around since the 1950s and are still as relevant to today's marketers as they were 70 years ago. But what’s the difference and which is best for a particular marketing or advertising campaign? There’s a line and we’re about to cross it… 


Above-the-line marketing (ATL)

Simply put, above-the-line or ATL is any form of marketing or advertising that is generally untargeted and focuses on brand awareness. It links up nicely with always-on marketing (you can read more about that here).

Examples of ATL might include: 

The general idea of ATL is to increase brand awareness and to reach wider mass audiences or expand the net per se. Hence why TV and billboards are great examples - you can’t be sure who will see it, but you can be sure that many of those who do are likely to have not seen or heard about your brand or latest product/service before. It helps widen your demographic and reach people you may have otherwise missed through any of your targeted campaigns. It’s also often considered a less invasive form of marketing as it’s not seen as invading an individual’s ‘personal’ space.

However, one of the big cons of ATL is that it is notoriously difficult to measure and track. Because of the nature of the mediums you would use for ATL, you will struggle to get concrete measurements and results. For this reason, we would only use ATL to help boost awareness and not for more specific ROI, like sales the campaign generated! So think of ATL as an influencer of sorts, that makes up one element of your omni-channel campaign.


Below-the-line marketing (BTL)

Below-the-line marketing, or BTL (not a BLT, alas), on the other hand, is (you guessed it) the opposite of ATL. BTL marketing has a much more targeted approach, usually with a very specific audience and goal in mind, i.e. impressions, clicks or conversions. As a result, there is a greater focus on the ROI and ROAS of a campaign. 

Examples of BTL include: 

  • Trade shows 

  • Niche magazines 

  • Direct mail

  • Email marketing

  • SEO and SEM campaigns 

The big pro in favour of below-the-line is that it’s much easier to track the effectiveness of a campaign and measure against KPIs. And done well, advertising can feel like it’s specifically relevant for the individual on the receiving end.

However, one of the drawbacks of BTL is yes, you guessed it again, that done badly it can be totally irrelevant and feel like an invasion of your personal space. Not to mention that it can require a much larger commitment in terms of money/costs upfront, as well as far more consideration to target audience definitions, so make sure that the campaign you’re about to run aligns with your marketing/campaign goals. 


Through-the-line Marketing (TTL)

Wait… what’s this, another line? Oh yeah, it’s through-the-line marketing (TTL)! 

TTL is a great option for when you need a combination of both above and below-the-line marketing - making a slice through the line. As it is an amalgamation of both ATL and BTL, it really is a personal favourite. It focuses equally on the brand-building aspect that ATL gives us while combining it with the more targeted approach we get from BTL. 

Since the introduction of social media, through-the-line often involves digital marketing and digital strategy. So make sure you have a 360 view of all your activities when using TTL to get the most out of it.

TTL allows you to reach your target audience across a variety of channels, both in and out of home. You might meet a potential customer at a trade show, they might then hear a radio ad about you on their way home and you might then send them an EDM after the event. Either way, it’s creating a more well-rounded approach. 


So, which ‘line’ to choose?

As always, with any form of marketing, it’s important to keep your goals in mind and focus on what you want to get out of a specific marketing campaign, as this will ultimately determine which type will reap the best results. And don’t lose sight of budgets, we’re not all John Lewis going for the Christmas TV ad campaign of the season!

You want large-scale untargeted brand awareness? ATL

You want specific targeting with a measurable ROI? BTL

And, if in doubt, TTL is a good way of getting the best of both worlds!

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